Morels!

April 17, 2020

It’s a compulsion I haven’t been able to indulge in for at least five years.

I realize this isn’t the greatest picture.  My tiny flip-phone, which already doesn’t take amazing pictures, downsized the image when I sent it.  Bah!

My obsession with morel hunting began in 2005.  I’d returned to Virginia the previous year and was working with a co-worker whose husband’s family had farmed along the mountains of what would come to be known as Shenandoah National Park.

When she shared this helpful rule, I was hooked:

“When the poplar leaves are the size of squirrel’s ears, it’s time to start hunting merkels.”

squirrel ear sized poplar leaf

We didn’t find morels that year although we raced through various landscapes trying to locate what we imagined would be the perfect environment for them.  That was part of the problem:  racing.  When you’re hunting for morels, you have to allow the world to narrow to four or five feet and slow to a glacial crawl.  What I recall of that first attempt was how we would crane our heads up to check if we were walking beneath tulip poplar trees and then look down at the forest floor.  It’s a surprising that we didn’t hurt ourselves during these dizzying tries, but we were younger then.

Another friend and I literally stumbled over morels 3 years later.  We ended up harvesting so many morels that I don’t really ever need to eat another one.  One night my boyfriend was late (again) to dinner so I ate the entire pound of morels in cream over croissants as a sort of revenge.  (see previous note on being younger)

These days, pandemic or no, I’m simply grateful for the gift the forest gives when a perfect morel reveals itself, its giggling barely muffled.  After a long winter and before the crowded vivacity of summer, the woods are a special domain, giving me the chance to stretch my muscles – slowly – and thrill in the signs of renewed life.  One of my favorite John Muir quotations captures this uniquely human understanding:

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.

guardian spirits

reminders on how to breathe during an airborne toxic event

April 6, 2020

Salomon saith, There is no new thing upon the earth. So that as Plato had an imagination, that all knowledge was but remembrance; so Salomon giveth his sentence, that all novelty is but oblivion.

Francis Bacon: Essays, LVIII quoted in Jorge Luis Borges’ “The Immortal”

 


 

“How was class?” Denise said.

“It’s going so well they want me to teach another course.”

“In what?”

“Jack won’t believe this.”

“In what?” I said.

“Eating and drinking.  It’s called Eating and Drinking: Basic Parameters.  Which, I admit, is a little more stupid than it absolutely has to be.”

“What could you teach?” Denise said.

“That’s just it.  It’s practically inexhaustible.  Eat light foods in warm weather.  Drink plenty of fluids.”

“But everybody knows that.”

“Knowledge changes every day.  People like to have their beliefs reinforced.  Don’t lie down after eating a heavy meal.  Don’t drink liquor on an empty stomach.  If you must swim, wait at least an hour after eating.  The world is more complicated for adults than it is for children.  We didn’t grow up with all these shifting facts and attitudes.  One day they just started appearing.  So people need to be reassured by someone in a position of authority that a certain way to do something is the right way or the wrong way, at least for the time being.  I’m the closest they could find, that’s all.”

Don Delillo, White Noise

 

Babette, Jack’s wife and Denise’s mother, teaches a community class to the elderly in posture.  It seems just another layer of ridiculousness, but I’ve begun noticing how so many of us during this moment are doing … exactly the same thing.  It rather reminds me, sweetly, of the way our primate relatives pat each other in touching simplicity, sending the message that we are all in this together, that who you are matters to me, that your cares are mine and while I may not be able to make them disappear, I can utter familiar things that allay your anxieties for now.

Or as we murmur to each other and ourselves the ubiquitous expression, “You’ve got this.”

my quarantine

April 4, 2020

coronavirus

With special thanks to Gabriele Rausse

I remember you

March 31, 2020
apple blossoms

apple blossoms blooming at Monticello

After last week’s snow, the tall daffodils that had just begun to open were left with their sweet open faces pressed toward the earth.

When I’d lived in Ivy, there were masses of daffodils all over the 18 acre property.  As my cats George, Bandit and I took our walks, Bandit would sneak behind the masses of green stalks in order to effect pouncing manuevers upon hapless George.  He’d perfected the Daffodil Bandit act a few years earlier, when we lived in town, repeatedly assaulting my old gal Clarabelle in this manner during her last spring.  One wanted to scold him, and did try, but there was something so hilarious in the entire set-up and execution, as if Wile E Coyote had come east and had to work with something other than dynamite, anvils, and precipitous cliffs.

In a quasi-heartbreaking moment, days before the snow, I saw George crouched out by the daffodils.  I wondered if there was some memory in his heart of his friendly nemesis.

After the snow, seeing the bowed daffodils, I went out to cut some.  Over the three  springs I’d lived in Ivy I’d hated seeing my landlady’s visitors do this.  It seemed so pointless.  Why couldn’t they just appreciate them in situ? But now, watching their descent toward the earth, it seemed the only sure way to continue enjoying them.  As I type this, they are beaming their innocent, yellow cheer at me.  Bringing them in didn’t only lighten my interior visual field, however.  By sitting so closely to them, I have noted for the first time their light but distinct fragrance.

Of course, George, if I could ask and he could answer, would be able to tell me this.  Surely it was the scent of the flowers that triggered his memory of his best friend.  How silly to think animals can’t remember love, that they can’t feel the seasons shifting and recall happiness.

Spring is a particular pitfall for me.  The very energy that the buds must summon in order to break into flower and leaf challenges me to rise to the occasion.  To be a passive observer seems preferable at moments like this.  How easy it is to marvel at the beauty and leave it at that?  But my conscience won’t allow me to remain stuck in the contradiction of quarreling with the various screwed up elements of the status quo and doing nothing to change it.

The global shutdown occurring at this moment appears to me as a logical consequence of a human economy based on the wrong values.  Here we can apply the image of our pal Wile E Coyote again, running over the cliff and into the air until he looks down to see nothing is truly supporting him.  I have wished for a righting of this ecological and spiritual wrong for a long time without being able to comprehend how devastating the consequences would be for everyone, me included.

So … an additional level of contradiction to wiggle myself out of like Houdini with his handcuffs, chains, boxes, and what-have-you.  The quality I long to develop for myself, as the rug of ordinariness has been pulled out from under me and change is rumbling, is patience.  It takes, after all, a long time not only to change one’s self but to change the world.  Many won’t survive the changing and most people will fight it tooth-and-nail.  The seasons will come and go and those of us who remain will remember this time and what came before.  What will stop us in our tracks and take us through columns of time in the blink of an eye or the inhalation of a scent will be memories of love.

The Airborne Toxic Event

March 25, 2020

If you handful of people who ever read this recognize what the title of this blog entry refers to, then you’re miles ahead of everyone else.  Delillo’s White Noise offers satisfaction during this time on many levels (another of the novel’s countless running jokes.)  Although my copy had been packed away in … 2013, and I’d had no intention of unpacking prior to my still-fervently-hoped-for upcoming move, bizarre times required bold moves.  If the marginal comments and marks are any indication, the 20 something grad student who wrote her final paper on death in White Noise for a cultural studies seminar in 1991 wasn’t far wrong in identifying some worthy gems.  Arguably there isn’t one element of the entire book that doesn’t offer relevant insights to today’s moment.

One thing that strikes me now is how Delillo imagines his refugees all holing up together, whether in a deserted Boy Scouts camp as the toxic cloud backlit by tracers and towed by helicopters hovers or in crowded grocery stores where waves and particles flow or on highway overpasses where townspeople crowd to watch the sunsets whose breathtaking beauty is equally heightened and undermined by the real possibility that the lingering traces of the airborne toxic event or the microorganism dropped to devour it are to blame.  It makes the solitude we’re being requested to endure that much more poignant;  amidst this profound uncertainty we are being asked, effectively, to experience it alone.

Frankly, that’s another refreshing element of the novel:  no internet.  Thirty-five years after the novel’s publication, our lives are so permeated by various technological devices that even our dreams incorporate text messages, twitter and instagram posts and video memes.  To have the confusions of human life be ratcheted down just a few levels to television commercials, car crashes, Hitler studies, modern pharmaceuticals and the fear of death makes the trashy culture of the 80s look like children’s games.

There’s so much of significance to take in and the space to do it in this novel; the generosity and the abiding love for humanity is apparent even at moments of deep cynicism.  When the hero has to stop his German lessons because a metaphor his colleague Murray has used to characterize the German instructor overwhelms his senses (“What had been elusive about Howard Dunlop was now pinned down.  What had been strange and half creepy was now diseased”), he still feels bad about it.  There’s no certainty that Murray’s claim is true; it’s only a metaphor after all.  # Cancel culture is still a couple of decades in the future, although Gladney does note as he tries to gauge the ethnic background of his teenage son’s friend Orest Mercator, “It was getting hard to know what you couldn’t say to people.”

I feel as if I’ve been in training for this moment in history for a long while with my nomadic lifestyle, my own free form version of social distancing, my insane frugality, my value system as portable and infrangible as a pinned on medal.  Or maybe it’s just deja vu.  Regardless, the hapless and helpless J.A.K. Gladney is as perfect a symbol for what any of us — prepared or not — may or may not be able to offer at moments of great significance.  While I can’t watch children sleeping at night to return a sense of peace to my fractured mind or snuggle close to a life partner, there’s a reverence modeled in this prescient novel one can’t fail to find sustaining.  Read, laugh, marvel, and love!

 

Call Me Invasive

December 18, 2019

I’ve discovered a new/old wonderment in my sunrises and sunsets:  the murmuration of starlings.

This is what the above photos attempt to capture:  a giant car pool of birds, all of them having arisen from their night roosts and gathering en masse in order to cross the river into the grain fields that will provide them energy to survive.  Raptors are not unaware of the starlings plans, so these long ribbons of birds, foaming like smoke and creating their own microclimates as they wheel to and fro, are also protective devices to confuse predators and minimize loss.

Last Sunday collected along the small town’s streets to watch the illuminated holiday parade.  Strands of lights detailed the local speedway’s monster car float and adorned various farm implements that chugged down the street.  I could smell the diesel fuel from my perch a block away.  Prior to the parade’s start, I watched as volunteers lugged bags of candy intended for the crowd and wondered why people would bother to drive into town to watch decorated flatbeds and grab for cheap candy but they wouldn’t step out each morning and night to gaze up at the masses of birds.

Yesterday I walked to the post office and saw quantities of unwanted candy and discarded wrappers littering the parade route.  Perhaps this trash is similar to the legs and feathers of starlings I’ve been spotting in the past month or so.  People will tell you the European starlings are invasive, introduced by some hapless human during the 19th century, and causing, like many invasive species, a certain amount of havoc in their adopted environments.

I’m not sure who has more to learn about invasive species and their capacity both to captivate and repulse:  the parade spectators or myself.  I can only say I’m still in the running, trying to learn on the fly and continuing to marvel at how much life has to reveal.